Dear Diary….we are sneaky for about 3 seconds

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “The Scourge of the Slave Lords”

Well, the plan went about as well as could be expected…that is, the first part of it went off great.

Shortly after sunset, we gathered at the wall in the north-east corner of the complex, and waited while Raven quietly climbed up the wall. Once at the top, he stuffed cotton in his ears and threw down a rope to haul up the archers (and Mikael, who really wanted to be a bird, but Ezekiel told him to save his transformations just in case).

Heiron was still climbing the rope when a shrill, muffled sound came through our ear-plugs. When Mikael waved his hands, we could see four ugly winged shapes perched in various place in the small courtyard.

Bornthene and I drew our bows, and Mikael brought his cudgel down on one as it swooped close to claw at us. As soon as he had helped Heiron gain the top, Raven turned and punched a harpy right out of the air. Heiron seemed eager to join the battle — a bit too eager, since he fumbled his shot, and by the time he had himself together, the surviving harpies had fled into the darkness (we assume they were screaming, but we couldn’t hear much).

With that danger past, Raven started lowering us down into the garden courtyard, and pulling the rest of our party up. Last of all, he followed us down – leaving the rope hanging there in case we needed to beat a hasty retreat (since after all he’s the only one among us who’s any good at climbing walls).

From the map Mikael drew from his reconnaissance, we hoped that we could get into the main temple building from the door in this courtyard (we figured the main building was most likely to contain any prisoners). However, once we got the garden door open, it only led to a short passage (with a handy candle) that ended in a door to the main front courtyard.

We had not planned to take out the guards on the main gate (though coming from the back door, we didn’t have to worry about the portcullises). After some little discussion, we used my suggestion: split up. Ezekiel would take Agnar and Raven with him, and charge into the main temple building – hoping to find prisoners to rescue (oh, and he took Bornthene too because he thought it would be safer with him. Ha ha). Lydia would throw down a wall of fire to cover this movement, and Heiron and I would shoot the guards down from behind the fire (after all, they’re working for the Slave Lords…and this is how war works).

Meanwhile, Mikael would use the wall of fire to summon a fire elemental to help us with the assault on the main temple…since we had no idea what might be inside there.

This plan also went off about as well as could be expected. As soon as Heiron threw the door open, Lydia threw her hands out, and a wall of fire leapt up from the flagstones. As Ezekiel hustled his party toward the double doors of the main building, the gate guards (all orcs, by the way) took cover behind tables and a strange cart-thing with a torch on it.

They were quick on the uptake, I’ll give them that. They were also orcs.

I admit it. I miss Tressarian…and my brand new chainmail I just got…and I worry about how our friends in Homlette are doing, and I am stressed out by this whole business of detective work – and frankly most of the Wild Coast stresses me out. So mowing down those orcs really put me in my happy place.

It took a couple minutes, since they were hiding behind things – and they did fire back with their crossbows a couple times. The last orc standing fired a bolt, snatched up the crossbow of his fallen comrade, and hit me again. My arm hurt for the rest of the night, but luckily my fighting part was basically over.

With the guards down, Heiron took Lydia to follow Ezekiel – but I stayed with Mikael while he finished his spell. I dunno…it looked like he was just mumbling to himself and warming his hands at the fire, but it’s not like I can make insects obey my commands or anything (that would be super handy).

Ezekiel’s party had a little excitement, it sounds like. The hallway inside the main building is lined with statues – orc, gargoyle, orc, gargoyle – and they’re apparently really tippy. Ez stepped on a trigger on the floor, and two statues nose-planted on his head (Raven body-shielded Bornthene, otherwise they probably would have taken out his spine. As it is, they were both limping around until Ezekiel and Mikael healed them).

Finally, they came to the door at the far end of the hall – and as they tried to open it, they realized everything was completely silent. When Agnar finally forced the door open and threw it against the wall, even that didn’t make a noise.

I’m not sure exactly what they found there, because Lydia threw up another wall of fire, and by the time I arrived with Mikael and “Burnie,” the enemies were pretty much bundles of charred remains. There was a woman in a cleric’s outfit, but aside from her most of them seemed to be orcs or half-orcs. Makes sense, since they were gathered around a dais with a statue of a one-eyed orc (Lydia says it’s their god Grumpsh. I hope this one doesn’t show up in person if you touch the relic).

There was also a crowd of slaves all chained together (I guess they bludgeoned one of the orcs who tried to run from the fire). We found a ring of keys on a guard and unchained them, but four of them were a little too close to Lydia’s fire and Ezekiel will have to give them something stronger than healing.

There’s a room beyond this little sanctuary that’s mostly destroyed – stone blocks fallen from the ceiling, and what-not – but there’s a crushed altar in there that Ezekiel says was dedicated to Beori…so it looks like his information was correct: this place has seen a transition of power some time in the past. (Also some stirges in there, but I’ve learned a lot since we faced those last. It’s like fish in a barrel.

Mikael discovered a trapdoor in the dais between the statue’s feet (the orc statue tried to slice off his head for that, but it only sliced off part of his shoulder). After a little more discussion, we decided to leave “Burnie” in charge of protecting the rescued slaves, while we all went down the ladder under the trapdoor and explored (looking for more prisoners to rescue).

This plan…did not go quite as well as the others. Ezekiel, Mikael, and Agnar went first…and I was in the very rear, so I basically saw nothing.

At the bottom of the wooden ladder, there’s a damp, dirt tunnel. It’s high enough for comfort, but rugged and twisty…not constructed like a normal human/demi-human/humanoid would do it.

Around a corner up ahead, the vanguard started fighting some giant ants…and eventually some other things that apparently look like ants, but walk on their hind legs and carry two shields and two broadswords apiece (six limbs, see…I myself only got a glimpse of a couple of these things).

These super-ants could talk – after a fashion. They kept scolding us for being there and yelling at us to get out, and neither Mikael nor Ezekiel could get them to respond to questions. Eventually, Ez decided he wasn’t really to slaughter all these creatures (yet), so pushed us back and up the ladder. I think we’ll have to go back eventually…these cultists or slavers or whatever they are didn’t have a trapdoor to an ant farm just for funsies.

The cleric-types passed around healing, and we decided to explore some more of the temple grounds before it got too late (and while “Burnie” was still on assignment…elementals only agree to come help you for so long, apparently. Fair’s fair).

When we returned to the main front courtyard, the cart with the torch was inexplicably gone…and the flagstones where it had been were all scorched. Lydia got this “Oh!” expression on her face, but she didn’t feel the need to explain I guess.

Two doors stood on either side of the closed portcullises. Opening the one on the left, we found a little guardroom with a big winch for raising the gate, a table with a candle, and three slaves in collars chained to the wall. They were surely at first, but loosened up when Lydia unlocked them. They seem to know precious little about the operations here, which is about what we could honestly expect.

I led them down the passage to the altar room and told Burnie that they were Mikael’s friends who needed to be protected (he – it? – gave me some funny looks, but seemed chill about the whole thing).

When I got back to the courtyard, I discovered just how much excitement I’d missed.

When Ezekiel and Raven opened the door on the right, they found a very similar room…except with two identical orcs standing there, one with his sword out. Rather – that’s what Raven thinks he saw…when he looked again, what he saw was a half-orc pointing a sword at a cowering female slave.

The slave whimpered and begged him to save her – while the half-orc trembled and begged him to get the slave away from him.

Ezekiel came up in his “What’s all this?” way, but couldn’t get much else out of the two. He says he “held” the slave and carried her out of the room – then applied protection from Evil to himself, and released her.

About the time I got back from the main building, she was huddling in the corner of the courtyard, trying to get away from Ezekiel. She said she was a “connoisseur”…then called herself a doppleganger…then suddenly she wasn’t there, but rather an exact look-alike of Ezekiel stood in her place.

I suppose she decided Ezekiel wasn’t going to let her go, and started shifting through forms, trying to get a reaction. Whether she really eats people, or was just trying to disgust us, we couldn’t let a creature that powerful out of our sight (sort of like Raven with the disguise hat).

Ezekiel asked her all the questions he could think of, but apparently she hadn’t been here long – just infiltrated the compound with a trade party, looking for victims – so she couldn’t (and/or wouldn’t) tell us much.

Lydia asked, “Where do your kind go when they die?”

The creature said, “You should ask your brother!”

Lydia assured me dopplegangers aren’t like werewolves, so her brother couldn’t have been turned into one…but I didn’t ask whether he was really dead. It didn’t seem polite.

Then the creature changed shape again, called me by name, and said, “What would Alpheus say?”

That’s when Ezekiel told Agnar to end it – which he did. With just two big swipes of his sword.

Lydia says dopplegangers have ESP, which just means they can read minds. It helps them take the shape of different people and pretend to be people…sort of like assassins. Makes me dislike them even more.

I didn’t get the chance to say, but I know where Alpheus would go when he dies. I assume it’s the same place I’ve been…I just never remember when I’m sent back here. Our gods take care of us…Ezekiel says the same. I wondered for a minute if Alpheus might be dead…I’m not a kid anymore, and he was always so enormous and old compared to me. But I think the creature was just trying to mess with us. Maybe one day I will be in one place long enough to get a letter from home…if they’re all not too busy protecting the Grand Duke from conspiracies and other such-not.

Back to the point. Ezekiel talked with the half-orc (his name is Usin), but he just guard the gate and the winch, so he doesn’t know much of what went on in the rest of the complex. Heiron and Agnar got to work raising the portcullises, and Ez told Usin he was free to go if he wanted, since our quarrel was with the Slave Lords, not him personally.

Then Raven asked if he would be interested in joining their church – he said they would need a gate-guard for their temple/monastery/wizard tower/water park (once it’s actually built, that is). I just about choked when Usin said Sure…but I guess Raven and Ezekiel do have a way about them…and he must have figured it was his best move for staying alive.

Well, we all know Ezekiel. He took Usin and hustled off to get him some of the platemail the orcs in the altar-room were wearing, and when they got back, we headed through the door in the west wall of the entrance yard.

On the other side is a huge, long courtyard stretching south. Ezekiel turned a wight with his little sheep he bought, so I guess it really does a job (he says he turned a second one earlier tonight…he sure comes in handy there).

This part of the complex seems basically ruined…the buildings have great gaping holes in them, and chunks of debris lie here and there. At the far south end is the yard where Mikael saw the statues during his reconnaissance – but it was blocked off by a newly-constructed wall about as high as Mikael could reach. I guess the temple people weren’t friends with the basilisk.

After a little brainstorming (none of us was anxious to meet a basilisk head-on), Mikael pulled out his bundle of sticks he carries for just such an occasion and turned them into snakes. We helped boost them to the top of the wall (well, everyone except me) – then Mikael made a bunch of them bigger, and ordered them to attack.

For a few minutes, hisses and snarls and cracks came from behind the wall. When things went quiet again, Ezekiel grabbed his destiny by the antlers and climbed up Mikael’s back to peek over the wall.

Seconds later, he called to Heiron that there was one basilisk left, and he was going to try and distract it. Hauling his shield up in front of his face, he swung himself over the wall and dropped to the other side.

With Mikael’s help, Heiron topped the wall and launched an arrow. There was a half-snarl, half-squeak…and we heard Ezekiel’s voice calling back all was well.

Raven took some rope and helped Ezekiel climb out again…clutching some basilisk eyeballs in his handkerchief. Must remember to not lend him handkerchiefs.

The last exciting event of the night came as we were walking the perimeter of the complex to the west (through the broken, collapsed buildings there). We spotted firelight up ahead, and parlayed with a group of armed men. Ezekiel did his best to ask clever questions, and we gleaned that they checked in with papers earlier today, here to buy slaves from the servants of the Slave Lords. They said they serve “Lord Malcolm”…we’ll see if that ends up being relevant.

Usin (our half-orc tag-along) bluffed quite well – he told them we were “out of slaves,” and they could feel free to leave if they wanted, since the gate was open.

I’m sure they were disgruntled that they didn’t get what they came for, but the party decided they’d be happier in town…and this way we didn’t have to kill them all, so that’s a plus. (We’ll see if it comes back to bite us or not.)

About that time, we decided we were all tired. As I mentioned, my arm was throbbing where the crossbow bolt went through it, and Ezekiel and Lydia had about used up their spells (I think Mikael could still take out an entire slave-ship by himself, but he didn’t say so).

We returned to the sanctuary room in the main temple building, where Buffy reported nothing unusual (except that giant burning thing that hung around for a while).

Ezekiel prayed and waved his sheep toy over one of the slaves that was too close to Lydia’s wall of fire, and the man started and panted and looked around him. So then Ezekiel and Mikael passed around all the healing they had left, and Ezekiel did his trick he likes doing and broke a ration in half in half in half until everyone had plenty.

I think most of the slaves still haven’t mentally processed what happened this evening, but one of the take-charge ones says they can head into Highport in the morning and find odd jobs to fund their trips home (they’re from all over: mostly Wild Coast, but also the Great Kingdom and even a handful from Keoland). They say when Ezekiel raises the other dead ones over the next few days that we can tell them to meet the others at the Grumpy Gargoyle (an inn in town). Ezekiel can load them up with a few extra rations, too, so they should be set (as well as we can get them).

Usin also looks pretty stunned (if I’m reading his half-orc body language right). Ezekiel talked with him a bit more, and he says there were sometimes really tough customers that needed an interpreter who spoke Orcish (not him, since he claims not to speak it that well). Slaves often came through the main gates, but sometimes through the stables (back where that party was camping, so I guess that’s where we’ll head in the morning).

Under the trapdoor, on a shelf opposite the ladder, we found the temple’s “cash on hand” – no meager sum – and a stack of papers, which Ezekiel is leafing through while Lydia reads her spell-book.

Agnar says he’s just happy he got to kill the doppleganger, and that today has been ridiculously dull. I want to know what Ezekiel and Mikael are going to do if he ever decides Mikael is not his bestest of the best friend anymore. Gotta keep an eye on that half-orc, too. He’s sharp, and I guess he’s decided his best chance at survival is with us…but you can’t trust these mercenary types. Good I have Heiron to watch my back.

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2 thoughts on “Dear Diary….we are sneaky for about 3 seconds

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